Google Might Not Want To Sell Nexus One

Last Updated Jan 4, 2010 9:13 AM EST

When it comes to the new Nexus One phone from Google (GOOG) and made by HTC, a few things seem awry. Not the phone itself, which, according to Engadget's review of an advance unit, is good, although not "the be-all-end-all Android phone/iPhone eviscerator." No, the way that Google is going about introducing and selling it. And those things add up to suggest that maybe Google's main aim is not to sell the Nexus.

Consider the factors in play at the moment:

  • Introduction Date -- Although this is the time of year for CES, where many companies announce upcoming new products, often the announcements are for products not on the verge of shipping, but scheduled a few months off. Why? Because we've just come through the holiday season, and given that people have been spending their discretionary funds, this is not a traditionally strong time of year to introduce new devices. Yet, Google handed units out to its employees and now Engadget's got one, so this isn't something waiting on future production, and signs are that the announcement comes tomorrow.
  • Price -- There was speculation aplenty about whether Google would use ads or its own cash flow to subsidize the phone and get people going for it in large numbers. But information leaked to Gizmodo suggested that the company would take a conventional approach to pricing, with an unlocked and unsubsidized unit running over $500 and the one subsidized through T-Mobile about $180. That's no price to get people to make the decision to move to an Android device as being too good a deal to pass.
  • Business Partners -- Google has its own reasons for giving away Android, called getting people locked into its mobile ad platform, because that's where its future growth lies. But for such a well-branded company to sell its own version of a phone based on its OS is almost like Microsoft selling a PC. It's the sort of activity that makes equipment manufacturing business partners distrustful and resentful.
When you look at the first two factors, it's as though Google was going out of its way to not maximize the number of units it could sell. And then that got me thinking about the automobile industry. Not that Google is a General Motors or Chrysler, but there is the accustomed practice of creating concept vehicles, which are meant to show off what the manufacturer can do and grab public attention. The more I think about it, the more that's what the Nexus One seems to be, only a concept in actual production rather than a single demonstration unit. Perhaps what's really going on is that Google wants to push what its business partners are doing and to create enough buzz about the phone to get more people to adopt its platform. That would also explain why there haven't been more stories of behind-doors grumbling by the handset vendors -- because Google would have told them that it wants to drive consumer adoption and OEM innovation, not that it really wants to be in the handset business.

Image courtesy Engadget.

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    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.